Our Palm Beach legal malpractice attorney was interested to read recently in the Sun-Sentinel that the complaint against State Attorney Michael McAuliffe has been dismissed by Florida’s Commission on Ethics after the complaint was deemed legally insufficient. The complaint, which was filed by a police officer named Rick Sessa earlier this year, alleged that McAuliffe had abused his prosecutorial discretion by dropping and reducing charges against two other police officers. The two officers in question were caught on video beating and kicking a suspect after he had been subdued and handcuffed. Sessa’s complaint against McAuliffe charged that McAuliffe had dropped charges against one officer altogether and dropped the charges against the other down to a misdemeanor, all in hopes of gaining the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association for an upcoming re-election bid.
The Florida Commission on Ethics dismissed the complaint, saying that Sessa failed to allege enough concrete facts to support his claim. They ruled that the complaint consisted mainly of speculation and conclusion-drawing. The Commission’s decision does not reflect the validity of the charges against McAuliffe; it is simply a legal conclusion that states there simply is not enough evidence to move forward on the complaint.
Part of what makes it difficult to prove a claim like this one is that state attorneys like Michael McAuliffe have an enormous amount of discretion in determining whether or not to bring charges against any individual and what charges to pursue. The reason for giving prosecutors so much discretion is to allow them to take circumstances into consideration when deciding whether or how to prosecute. For example, a young man who steals food from a grocery store to feed his family may not be prosecuted the same way as he would be if he stole a television or other non-necessity. Because of all of the many ways that a particular law can be technically violated, it is usually not practical or reasonable to try to include them in the language of the law itself. The prosecutor’s nearly unfettered discretion allows him or her to make the exceptions that are necessary.
Additionally, prosecutorial discretion serves the purpose of allowing for the limited resources available to the state attorney’s office to be used efficiently. Because prosecuting any suspect costs money, prosecutors must determine which crimes should be prosecuted most vigorously. Prosecutors must be able to make those choices without fearing retribution by victims, victims’ rights groups, and other state officials.
As a Palm Beach legal malpractice lawyer, Attorney Eric Luckman understands and appreciates the importance of avoiding any even questionably unethical conduct. Under Florida attorney ethics law, many situations do not allow for easy answers, and sometimes what seems like the best answer to a moral question is not the correct answer under the law. Still, it is a very big part of any attorney’s job to be aware of and sensitive to legal ethics laws. If you have witnessed what you believe could be unethical behavior on the part of an attorney or received treatment that you believe could be a violation of Florida’s ethics laws, our office may be able to help you or other victims get compensation. Give our office a call today to schedule an appointment with our West Palm Beach legal malpractice attorney.
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